Today I spent some time away on a retreat. As part of it I decided to explore a book of the Bible that I have not really explored before. So I turned to Obadiah. How many of you can turn to it without checking the index or flicking through hopefully?
It’s a tiny book among the so-called ‘minor prophets’ in the Old Testament. It’s so small it doesn’t have chapters, just verse numbers. I was struck by verse 2: “See, I will make you small among the nations: you will be utterly despised…”
This prophecy delivered by Obadiah on God’s behalf was to a small nation bordering Israel / Judah – Edom. The Edomites were descended from Jacob’s brother, Esau. The nation of Edom had maintained hostility against Israel and Judah for centuries. But why would God be miniaturising them? Why were they smallerised (Edom no longer exists as a nation)?
The reasons are set out in the following verses, most notably that they had been “deceived by pride” or “remained aloof” – standing back and watching as the Babylonians invaded, defeated and plundered their neighbours.
I may be on dodgy hermeneutical and exegetical ground here, but bear with me. I recognise too that I am about to make some sweeping generalisations that are, by definition, not accurate in every local church or situation.
I wonder whether the smallerisation that is currently happening to the church in the UK has some links to tiny Obadiah’s message? We are being made smaller, and perhaps even despised by some, and is it for similar reasons to the Edomites?
In the past did we rest on false pride: “we are a Christian country!”? Even after the Second World War the majority of people were churchgoers. Now we are down to less than 7%. Did we become complacent and irrelevant to the questions and doubts of the nation and refuse to engage with the issues that they felt were important – sidelining ourselves.
Did we remain aloof from those who are being oppressed: those who are poor, marginalised, oppressed, victims of prejudice? How many of those people are in our churches today? How loudly have we spoken up on their behalf? How much action have we taken? Yes we have Foodbanks and Debt Counselling and many more activities, but they are recent innovations…
Are we being ‘smallerised’ because the general population can no longer see Jesus in us?
I wonder whether we need to take note of tiny Obadiah again… It’s not the whole answer, but it might be part of the question we need to be asking.
Be blessed, be a blessing